Thursday, May 18, 2006

Day 1

Friends: It was just cinematic appetizers in the market on the first day of screenings, so there would be nothing of significance to distract from the Opening Night Gala of "The Da Vinci Code." Still, I got off to a good start with five films starting at two p.m., taking me up to midnight, all in the small, less than 50-seat screening rooms in the Palais.

I had nearly scanned all of the the one and two sentence synopses of the thousand plus films playing here, when I met Helen, programmer of Chicago's festival who is also covering the festival for "Time Out Chicago's" web page. She had just attended a press screenings of "The Da Vinci Code." She's not among the one hundred million or so who've read the book, but she said the movie was very acceptable summer entertainment.

I had yet to find a bicycle-themed film in the line-up, nor was Helen aware of any. I thought I had a winner when I came upon a film entitled "Cycle" from the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the plot summary in the catalog was, " A killer stalks five students in the Highlands of Scotland, murders them, then eats their brains." I doubt I'll be seeing that.

A high percentage of today's market screenings were Japanese, so it was only fitting that I began the 59th edition of Cannes with the Japanese film--"Green Mind, Metal Bats." The bats of the title were baseball bats. Namba, a dopey, downtrodden, 27-year old convenience store clerk swings his bat at least 1,000 times a day, and with great vigor, seeking the ultimate swing and a tryout with his favorite professional team, the Dragons. He's given occasional advice by a mysterious homeless-looking older guy who is said to be the illegitimate son of Babe Ruth. His
mantra is, "Baseball is the greatest game there is."

Namba rescues and takes in a perpetually staggering drunk waif who is always wearing a low cut blouse and mini-dress. She likes to kick and stomp illegally parked cars with her high heels. The ace pitcher of Namba's high school baseball team, which went to the Nationals, is now a cop who patrols his quiet district on a bicycle and speeds to crime scenes as if he were in the Tour de France. All these ingredients made for a fine start to the 60 or more films I will see in the coming days. Both Helen and I agreed it was much more enjoyable than many of the invited films we will see in the four competitive categories.

I was turned away from "10th and Wolf", a police thriller with Brian Dennehy and Dennis Hopper, by its producer. "There are no seats left," he said, but then asked, "Are you a distributor?" Then there would have been a seat. I walked 20 feet down the hall to Palais screening room F to watch Susan Sarandon playing an Australian housewife with two young daughters and married to Sam Neil in "Irresistible." Sarandon is being stalked. All indications are its by her husband's beautiful and much younger assistant. There is no clue as to why. An even bigger question is why Sarandon agreed to star in this Australian production. Acting with Neil could have been an enticement, but he has no less reason to be forgiven for lending his presence to this irrelevance. All 35 seats were occupied at the start of this screening. Less than half remained filled by its conclusion.

Nine-year old delinquent Juan Carlos in the Spanish "My Quick Way Out" has wanted a bicycle for Christmas the past two years. His brick-laying father tells him he can't afford to buy him one as it would cost him two weeks of his salary. Then he surprises him with a shiny BMX red beauty with the understanding he give up his no-good friends and behave. But Juan Carlos is incorrigible and only uses the bike to range further in his criminal activities. His specialty is stealing cars, though he is notoriously adept at it. This may seem far-fetched, but we are told at the beginning of the film that the year is 1980 and the film is loosely based on a true story and that Juan Carlos had been arrested 150 times by the time he was eleven.

He tells a 30-year old woman he seduces in a bar that cars are his favorite thing. She doesn't have one, so he immediately impresses her by going out and stealing one. His teen-aged friends include a heroin addict and others who have no future, nor does it appear as if he has much of a future beyond a life behind bars himself. At one point his totally exasperated father tells a couple of cops that his son has a death wish and it should be granted sooner or later, implying he wouldn't mind if they ran him off a cliff in one of his frequent car chases or shoot him in a shoot-out. But Juan Carlos finally meets someone at a reform school with an unconventional approach, who he connects with and might save him. The film concludes with a dedication to that school.

I noticed more films about ex-cons and prisoners than just about anything else in the program. "House of Blood" was among them. This over-the-top horror film from the U.S. begins with a bus load of prisoners crashing in the rural northwest. Four prisoners survive. They kill the surviving guards, put on their uniforms and make out for the Canadian border. They are accompanied by a doctor whose car caused the crash. They need him as one of the prisoners suffered a gun shot wound to his arm. The doctor insists it must be amputated, but first they need to find a safe place to perform the operation. They stumble upon a barn after a couple of hours filled with a tribe of Biblical speaking vampires. They don't realize they are vampires until after the amputation and one of the creatures gobbles it down. Half the audience walked out before the film was ten minutes old, as this was clearly schlock, although for a while it looked like it could be worthwhile midnight film festival fare. Three Germans in particular behind me were greatly enjoying this madness. I too couldn't help but laugh from time to time, as the various characters quoted Kant and Nietsche and Oscar Wilde.

I concluded Day One with "Life's A Road Trip." Ed Harris was listed in the credits, but, unfortunately, he only had one scene near the end of the movie as a one-armed worker at a circus. He's talking about lions and tigers, though they weren't responsible for the loss of his arm. It was a car accident. That revelation, like all else in this, was a let-down. The three guys on the road trip are 38-years who have been friends since high school, where they all distinguished themselves and showed great promise. One was the star QB who won a college scholarship, another the class valedictorian and the third a rock musician. But they all now work very unfulfilling blue-collar jobs and couldn't be more morose. DB Sweeney wrote and directed and plays the QB. His face is etched in great torment throughout. The three go off on a road trip to attend a championship football game that might redeem their lives. Ugh.

Later, George

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